A five turnover game usually does not bode well for a team yet for the Mansfield Hornets, it meant only a seven point deficit at halftime against the St. John’s of Shrewsbury Pioneers in the MIAA Division 2 State Championship Game.
"We felt pretty good at halftime because we didn’t punt it, we were moving the ball, we were only down seven. To turn the ball over five times and be down seven we felt we still had a good shot of winning it," Mansfeld head coach Mike Redding said.
Defensively the team was holding strong with two interceptions but going into the half the message was simple from Redding.
“Let’s start holding on to the ball. Just play smart, play like veterans,” Redding told his team at halftime.
Indeed, the Hornets began to play smarter and they held on to the ball, scoring 21 unanswered points to beat St. John’s 28-14 for the title.
With Brendan Hill out with an MCL injury, the Hornets relied on Miguel Vila-Perez and a strong counter game led by Michael Hershman to overwhelm the Pioneers’ defense.
The Hershman/Perez duo drove the Hornets down the field on their opening drive, ending with an Alex Ruddy touchdown with 5:50 left in the first quarter.
The Hornets appeared to be driving again but a fumble by Chris Buchanan gave the Pioneers the ball at the Mansfield 40-yard line.
St. John's needed little time to score, getting to the one-yard line on a 36-yard QB keeper from Andrew Smiley. A second keeper from Smiley put the Pioneers on the board and the extra point tied the game 7-7 with 2:15 left in the half.
The Hornets continued to shoot themselves in the foot after Perez coughed up the ball at the St. John's 35-yard line on the next drive.
Despite stopping the Pioneers, a fumbled toss to Buchanan turned the ball over to St. John's near midfield who made the most of the recovery.
Sitting inside the red zone, the Pioneers took 14-7 lead on an inside handoff to Shane Combs from the Mansfield 19-yard line with 4:18 left to play in the half.
Things went from bad to worse for the Hornets after a pooch kick by the Pioneers was recovered by the kicking team at the Mansfield 26-yard line. The Mansfield defense however, forced St. John’s to go for it on fourth down which resulted in an intereption in the end zone by Aurian Dawkins.
Early on the Pioneers opening drive of the second half, an interception by Connor Finerty got the Hornets offense to the 11-yard line and gave the Hornets some desperately needed field position.
One play later, a handoff to Ruddy cut the lead to one but a missed extra point kept the score at 14-13 with 8:43 left in the third quarter.
Forcing a punt out of the Pioneers, the Hornets took over at their own 41-yard line. Working the running game and Perez, a third and one run from Perez from the 20 got the Hornets down to the 12 yard for the first down.
After Buchanan set up a second and goal at the five, a counter to Hershman gave the Hornets the lead and a two-point conversion from Perez extended the lead to 21-14 in the third quarter.
Time management became a factor going into the fourth quarter with the Hornets stretching their final offensive drive for well over seven minutes.
“We just wanted to work the time, keep the ball moving with five yard runs and first downs, just keep chewing up the clock,” Perez said.
The slow moving running game resulted in a touchdown from Perez that locked up the game and gave Mansfield a 28-14 lead.
The Hornets finish the season 13-0 and with their first championship since 2010.